“Caesar III”

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulator This civilization simulator has been one of my favorite games since childhood. The only trouble with playing it is that it will be an automatic three-hour sink every time I open the program.

The Mechanics of an Empire

Caesar III puts you in the role of a governor building a town from scratch. Your manager on behalf of the Emperor rates your performance based on population, crime rate, revenue, cultural attainments, etc.

As is typical for a city-simulation game, you are the Supreme Tyrant of your town. You must provide food and housing for your citizens, make sure they can get to the buildings that need employees, balance your building needs with tax income, and more.

Bread for the Masses

The food system is especially complex, requiring much concentration and study to perfect. Farms (which require labor) will produce food, which is delivered to granaries (which require labor). From there, it is distributed to markets (which require labor), which send “market ladies” out to distribute food directly to people’s homes. In especially complex cities, a market lady might take a wrong turn, leaving people down the dead end to starve until she figures it out.

And there is no way to control the way the people walk. They travel the roads of your city, randomly deciding which branch to take at each crossroad, and returning to their starting building once they “run out of food” or get tired.

All this careful finagling is perfect for sucking in hours of the player’s time. After all, figuring out how the system works and what you need to tweak to get it to function is all part of the fun!

If you happen to have a “warehouse” near your farms (designed to hold other things like pottery and furniture – oh, yes, you have to provide those, too) the warehouse might accidentally collect the food intended for the granary (in case you want to sell food to traders, you see) and this means the market workers can’t access it from the granary!

(Did I mention farms can only be built on land that’s arable?)

Imperial Combat

This is not a fighting game, although it includes limited mechanics for warfare. Some of the areas you will be assigned to are threatened by “savages” who will attack your town! (It’s even possible to face Carthaginians on elephants!)

If your town is in a dangerous area, you will have the ability to build military structures. These include walls and gatehouses, plus barracks for housing legions of soldiers (spearmen, legionaries, or horsemen).

I preferred playing maps that were “moderately” dangerous, so I could build gates to contain my populace (building a gatehouse across the road keeps people from wandering down its full length) and hosting soldiers to help put down potential riots (if you keep your citizens stuffed and entertained, they’ll pay their taxes and behave. Ignore their demands, and they’ll get vocal and torch-wielding about it).

Variation of Terrain

Caesar III adds variety by offering you assignments in different parts of the empire. For instance, you might take a post in the wilds of Britannia, where the grass is lush and green, and the groundwater easy to tap. (You must build fountains to give your people water, supplied by the famous Roman aqueducts.)

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulatorBut perhaps you will be sent to North Africa, where the pale sand is dotted with shrubs and bushes, and water is harder to provide. You’ll also have to use your farmland very wisely, as farms can only be built where crops will grow. Of course, working out the geometry for maximum farm-age is part of the fun!

In some areas, you are provided with lots of coastline, and expected to feed your people with fishing wharves. Sometimes there are even “primitive” natives, who must be pacified with a missionary post (teaching Latin and civilizing through education, of course!).

Other Obstacles

Oh, yeah, your buildings can collapse or burn down if they’re not maintained."Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulator

Your people are really demanding, and no sooner do you give them pottery and oil than they want furniture and wine! (Just click on the houses, or on the crowds walking the streets, and they’ll tell you exactly what they think!)

Also, sometimes wild animals will run around the map and stand right where you want to put a building!

Your Imperial Boss

You may have the ultimate authority and responsibility over the people and buildings in your city…but Rome has ultimate authority over you!

Caesar gives you money to get you started, and might send you loans to get you out of trouble should you need it… But he also has demands to make.

It’s not unheard of for him to demand 20 units of oil, or pottery, or another commodity. Then you have to order your warehouses to stockpile this item, and hope you gather enough before the deadline.

Don’t keep the Emperor waiting.

The “God” Mechanic

There are even more things to worry about as you try to build your city! Five Roman gods (Mars, Venus, Ceres, Mercury, and Neptune) will want temples and festivals in their honor. Your citizens are also happy to be able to pay their respects, and will want access to several different nearby temples so they can cover all their bases.

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulatorHosting festivals entertains your people, and flatters the gods. In return, the deities might bless your crops, or send a protecting spirit to kill your attacking enemies.

But if you should ignore them for too long…or – heaven forbid – give some other god more temples than they have…! Oh, they will make their wrath known!

Fortunately, you can turn “gods’ effects” off on the difficulty screen. I usually played with this “off” unless I had all the gods fat and happy.

Educational Content

So, Caesar III is a great way to burn the extra hours in your life. It’s even fun to tweak the systems in your city and gradually afford bigger and better buildings (I have yet to have a city that could support a hippodrome, but I’ve dreamt of it). Building your first colosseum, of course, always sparks a cut scene celebrating your promotion from “village” to “city”!

But educational content?

Back in my younger days playing this, I discovered a little question mark box in the corner of whatever dialogue screen you were in. Clicking this button opened a whole new world.

If you were interacting with a house, the ?-button would give you information about the Roman homes and the differences between simple terra cotta “casas” and the multi-story “insulae” (which are more like apartment complexes).

If you were interacting with the colosseum or theater, you could learn about entertainment in ancient Rome. The warehouse might tell you about ancient trade routes. The granary, food supply.

Believe it or not, at the age of twelve I spent a lot of my play time reading these little informational items, digging through to learn how each element of the game connected with the real Rome.

Educational games don’t have to be bright and colorful, or feature singing animals. All you need is a curious kid, and something that connects the game world with real life.

Rule the Empire!

To be perfectly and completely honest, I haven’t played this game out to the bitter end. Part of the reason is that it’s addictive (I’ll just build one more clinic…just wait until a few more people immigrate…ooh, a little more money and I can build this thing right over here…) Like a jigsaw or cross-word puzzle, each missing piece (say, a neighborhood that wants pottery) connects with several other pieces (like clay pits that need workers to run them) and each right answer is dependent on several others (like figuring out how you’ll feed the neighborhood that’s tucked in the corner by the clay pits to supply workers to the clay pits).

It might be more fun for those who enjoy attention-to-detail and obsess over the connection of many moving parts…while those who need a faster pace or more instantaneous affirmation might get bored.

But if you’re up for a challenge, have plenty of free time (like, HOURS of free time), and wouldn’t mind learning about the ancient Roman Empire…then I highly recommend Caesar III!


Caesar III is available for Windows from GoG.com, optimized for modern computers.

used Crossover to play this version on my Mac, and it works fine.

Also available on Steam for Windows (be aware Steam DRM-locks their software).

Find on Amazon as a digital download (for Windows), or in disk form.

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“Red Rabbit” by Tom Clancy

"Red Rabbit" by Tom Clancy — Kimia Wood A Soviet plot to assassinate the pope. A KGB communications officer trying to defect to the West. And star CIA analyst Jack Ryan, who…is there.

Tom Clancy builds his Cold War-era spy adventure slowly and deliberately…with detailed settings, in-depth character philosophizing, and realistic portraits of the mind-sets and world-views that create the situation.

Characters

Clancy’s recurring star, Jack Ryan, is a CIA analyst and teacher’s pet (and possibly the weakest character here). In fact, he does very little except agonize until the last chapter or so.

He does, however, act as a bridge. His ostensible role in the plot is as liaison between the British and American intelligence operations…and in this way, he also provides for Clancy to paint a clear and memorable picture of the differences between America and Great Britain.

A diverse cast

One of the things Clancy does with excellence is draw out the differences between different countries.

Ryan moves from America to a station in Britain, his homeland’s ally. Yet there are still so many things he must get used to: they drive on the “other” side of the road…everyone drinks tea, not coffee…words are pronounced differently (and some things are called by different names altogether)…the outlook on life is subtly shifted…even the TV shows are different (and Ryan doesn’t understand the sit-coms’ humor).

This underscores the culture shock of the Soviet “Rabbit” and his family when they flee a country of regulations, controls, and corruption to one of individual freedom. From assuming that the KGB watch and follow everyone at any and every time, to a place where you can walk onto a car dealer lot, pick out a car, pay for it, and drive away. From a nation where VHS players, bras, and nylons are luxuries snuck in through Hungary (and only affordable to the elite, like KGB officers) – to a place where they’re taken for granted, and every middle class family can afford them if they wish.

The ground-work for this change is laid with deliberate and poignant brushstrokes…perhaps slower than I would have chosen, but there’s no denying Clancy’s touch for choosing an exact turn of phrase to communicate his meaning, or for seeing to the heart of a mind-set he doesn’t hold himself and portraying it in believable philosophical prose.

This laying-bare of cultures holds the greatest value of the work.

Life Philosophies

A lot of time is spent in the different characters’ thoughts, dealing with their mental outlooks on life in minute detail.

Like the KGB chief…does he really believe in the Communist party’s rhetoric? Or does he rather believe in “power” – AKA himself?

When the communications analyst discovers that his government wants to kill the pope, what will he do? Should he blindly trust that his government knows best? Is he developing…a conscience?

What about Jack Ryan and his CIA overseers? Are they in this game for patriotism? To protect innocent people? Because the Soviets are inherently evil and must be stopped? When they hear that the pope is in danger, they debate whether they can protect him without revealing how they learned about it…because of course national security comes before the life of the head of the Catholic Church, right?

Some Complaining

Ryan’s loose Catholic faith adds an interesting dynamic, as he weighs his patriotism and religious feeling against the political concerns of his CIA bosses.

It also gives him something else to worry about, which seems to be most of what he does throughout the book.

When his bosses assign him to accompany some Brits on an operation as a CIA liaison, he freaks out and insists that he’s an analyst, not a field operative. He’s had some bad experiences with “hands-on” cases in the past…he has apparently stopped a terrorist attack in London before as a tourist (ex-Marine tourist, of course) and faced down a terrorist home invasion, but these experiences were only hinted at. Is there a different book I should have read first? Did Jack Ryan really need to be in this book at all?

His wife (an MD eye surgeon) is even more annoying – adding practically nothing to the narrative, nosing into Jack’s job even though she knows it’s secret, and nagging him for smoking/eating unhealthily. The only time her complaining seems well-founded, and actually lends sympathy to her character, is when her surgical colleagues leave a patient sedated on the operating table while they go for lunch and a pint. Remind me to never get medical care in Great Britain!

Cautions!

Clancy sometimes has trouble making it clear whose head we’re riding in, and you have to travel back through several paragraphs of mental narrative to get re-oriented.

There’s also sporadic language (including f-bombs and profanities) that seemed to get more intrusive as the book went on.

Also includes references to sex within married couples.

The Chess-man of Spy Thrillers

This book is about three-dimensional, conflicted people interacting with each other from different mental starting points. Mr. Clancy takes his time setting up all his dominoes, so that when they collide we say, “Oh, it was inevitable” as well as, “Oh, how is this going to turn out?”

If mental exercises, world-view exploration, and slow-cooking spy drama is your thing, you might enjoy Red Rabbit. I did enjoy it, but for my main spy-action reading, I prefer the bullets-and-fisticuffs of Robert Ludlum.


Red Rabbit is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo (as paperback or audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

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“A Newbery Christmas”

"A Newbery Christmas" — Kimia Wood — Christmas story Christmas is…an interesting topic.

What do you think about when you hear the word? What does a “Christmas story” mean? It forms an entire genre of fiction…but defining that genre is in the eye of the beholder.

Besides which, for some of us Christmas has the deeper purpose of celebrating Christ – the Anointed One – the Eternal God taking on flesh and walking the earth in the form of a human.

This collection of “Christmas” stories, penned by fourteen different Newbery Award-winning authors, was interesting on a number of different levels. Not only did the tone and style change depending on the attitude of the author, but also their view of Christmas (and what it means) was remarkably varying.

So, what is a “Christmas story”?

The “Just So” Fable

Some of them recalled the roots of Christmas. Theses stories have the flavor of a “fairytale retelling” as they relate the basic story elements – Mary giving birth to a special baby in a stable – and sprinkle it with their own twists.

For instance: Mary giving birth without making a sound…animals being given the gift of speech so as to relate the events from a thousand years ago…and Catholic saints traveling through time and space to get a peek at the manger scene.

For some people, this is what makes a “Christmas story” — Saturday Evening Post-type nostalgia mixed with church traditions.

The “Santa” Paradigm

The Newbery Award is for children’s literature, so the stories in this anthology are naturally geared toward children.

Some children view Christmas solely in the context of the presents they get. Older children are usually concerned about the presents they give away, also.

A good author captures the attitudes and thoughts of her viewpoint character.

But there is a line between accurately portraying a child’s limited worldview, and structuring your narrative with only these materialistic elements that reenforce the limited worldview. Sometimes, that line is very hard to find.

Is a “Christmas story” about giving gifts? Is it about discovering that what you really, really want is not as important as what you need?

Perhaps. For some people, that’s what they mean by a “Christmas story”.

My Personal Favorite

My favorite story is the selection by Madeleine L’Engle (ironically enough).

While not an “orthodox” Christian, she does a good job giving readers a sense of the “true meaning of Christmas” (as the clichés call it). Not only does her story follow a family celebrating the holiday with church, food, and snow – it gives a realistic portrayal of Christians acting in a way consistent with the character of God: with love, grace, and peace in the face of unexpected stress.

What is a “Christmas Story”?

To borrow Andrew Klavan’s explanation, a “Christmas story” is the tale of a character exchanging their value set. As in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer Scrooge exchanges his own value set (selfishness and money) for a more “heavenly” value set (generosity, legacy, and community) his motivation, actions, and lifestyle change.

He is transformed. He is a “man who learns better” because of the new values that descend on his life (and once he accepts them, his behavior changes).

This mirrors the original “Christmas” story, where our paradigms of self-centeredness, self-righteousness, and selfishness are confronted by God’s system.

That system being that we could do nothing to rescue ourselves, but God in His grace came down to earth (wearing human flesh and bone) and gave Himself to us…not only showing us the example for perfect love and kindness, but also making it possible for us to live in a way that pleases Him (through His Holy Spirit setting up shop without our own hearts and changing us from the inside out).

This strikes me as a good, understandable explanation of what makes a “Christmas story”.

Does something count as a “Christmas story” if it’s a peppermint-flavored romance set in December? According to this paradigm, only if they focus on the protagonist’s value set being exchanged for a “higher” one.

How about all the stories that wrap around a child getting exactly what they want for Christmas? Well…is the point that they don’t get what they want, but rather what they need? That focus on receiving a fresh values set would make it a Christmas story under this definition.

(For what it’s worth, Mr. Klavan says that Holly in Die Hard is in a Christmas movie, because the system she uses to evaluate and measure the world is challenged and replaced…but John from Die Hard is in an action movie, instead. Having never seen the movie, I can’t appraise his appraisal.)

But This is Actually a Review

What do you expect from a “Christmas anthology”? What are you looking to get out of it?

A couple of these stories are thought-provoking or emotionally resonant. A few of them are short and quippy, or more geared toward kids.

So…to resolve your itch for “Christmas genre” stories, or to give your kids something short and easy to read, it would work. Also works as a Christmas-themed coffee-table gift.

These stories probably won’t change your life. But it’s all a matter of expectations.

So, what does “Christmas” mean to you?


A Newberry Christmas features fourteen stories, by fourteen different Newberry-winning authors from Ruth Sawyer and Rachel Field to Lois Lenski, Eleanor Estes, and Madeleine L’Engle. It is edited/compiled by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh.

It is available on Amazon.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic novella Soldier, plus periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

“Ten Thousand Thorns” by Suzannah Rowntree

"Ten Thousand Thorns" by Suzannah Rowntree Some books just “sing”.

Others…don’t work for some people.

What if Sleeping Beauty was a martial artist?

For a hundred years, Princess Morning Light has meditated in a hidden temple surrounded by ten thousand thorns. Could her long-lost sword skill be the key to stopping the Vastly Martial Emperor?

Rebel leader Clouded Sky doesn’t believe in the old legends of Ten Thousand Thorns Temple. But as bounty hunters and imperial guards close in, the martial princess may be Clouded Sky’s last hope.

Who can he trust – and who is planning to betray him?

If you liked the martial arts and fierce female characters of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you’ll love this action-packed retelling of Sleeping Beauty!

Continue reading

“Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott

"Ivanhoe" by Sir Walter Scott — Kimia Wood Published in 1819, if you’re looking for some honest-to-goodness, played-straight, exhaustively researched yet swashbuckling-fun story of medieval chivalry and derring-do, you could do worse than Ivanhoe.

Set in the 12th century – during that period of time made famous by every rendition of Robin Hood, when the head-strong and vivacious King Richard was out of the country, and the unpopular Prince John ruled in his stead – Ivanhoe explores racism, classism, male-female tensions, concepts of chivalry, and religion, all mixed with enough action and entertaining turns of phrase to keep the pace going. Continue reading

“Over the Waves” by Marianne Olson

 The year is 1918, and Joel wants to be a newspaper reporter – not a tailor in his father’s shop. When his mother decides to visit her family back in Sweden, Joel gets the chance to accompany her – and prove that he’s responsible enough to choose what he wants to do in life.

On top of the normal dangers of a steamer voyage, the Great War breaks out, stranding them on the wrong side of the ocean! Continue reading

“A Sidekick’s Tale” by Elisabeth Grace Foley

"A Sidekick's Tale" by Elisabeth Grace Foley — Kimia Wood — sidekick I wasn’t sure how to describe this book without spoiling it. So, I decided I could do worse than the author’s own book description:

Meredith Fayett needed to marry someone before the week was out or she would lose her ranch. It sounded simple, so ranch hand Chance Stevens agreed to take on the job, in spite of his friend Marty’s warnings that it could only lead to trouble. But even Marty, a loyal though opinionated sidekick, couldn’t have predicted the mayhem that ensues when his own eccentric relatives appear on the scene, dragging Chance, Marty, and Meredith into the latest skirmish in a long-running family feud. What follows is a hilarious tangle involving an emerald ring, a fearsome aunt, a scheming suitor, and a team of runaway mules—by the end of which Chance finds that even a marriage just on paper has its complications, and that it never hurts to have a good sidekick.

This story is made by the narrator. Humorous and deft with an apt turn of phrase, the first-person recitation makes this short story a breeze and a delight to go through.

Part of the fun is not knowing what could come next. In this regard, the Amazon description almost gives too much away. But as the narrator himself says, “It’s the little things.”

It’s the little social commentary on his family that Marty gives us while tied to a tree…or the grave advice he dishes out to everyone who doesn’t want it…it’s his descriptions of the fat, bald Justice of the Peace careening down a hill on horseback…it’s Marty’s voice that makes this book.

After all, as Marty observes, the story of a pretty young girl about to lose her ranch is as old as the hills. It’s the “sidekick” – and his rendition of events – that complicates this “marriage of convenience” story. And makes it more memorable in the process.

If you like laughing – if you like smart sidekicks, crazy families, and marriage arrangement complications…then this might be the perfect way to spend an afternoon or two.


DISCLAIMER: I received a free e-copy of this book by participating in the Indie Christian Authors Black Friday Sale. I was not required to write of review of any kind.

A Sidekick’s Tale can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Find out more about the author on her Amazon and Smashwords pages.

“Bells of Paradise” by Suzannah Rowntree

"Bells of Paradise" by Suzannah Rowntree — Kimia Wood — fairytales The fairytales of modern times tend to be, well, modern. They are full of princesses in fluffy tulle dresses, and fairies with wimpy wings that wouldn’t lift a butterfly — and fairies that grant wishes to all and sundry without making any demands.

You would have to go to Andrew Lang or the Grimm brothers for the strange fairytale punishments of being rolled in a barrel of nails until dead – or to meet fay-people (cp. to “in a fay mood”) as grotesque and magical as a gothic cathedral – or to see the fairy food that can only be eaten at the forfeit of your soul.

And where could you find a hero as noble as he is faithful, who is drawn into the quest through no fault of his own – a romantic hero with a remarkably steady head on his shoulders – who ends the tale triumphant, unsullied, and glorified? No fairytale of modern craft would portray that, surely…heroes must be “flawed” to be “realistic”.

Ms. Rowntree has changed that. Continue reading

“Christmas Carol” Sings the Eternal Song

This is a re-blog from last year, but the points it makes are still true this year! And if you still haven’t read Dickens’ classic work, now’s a great time. Better yet, if you haven’t read the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2 or Matthew chapters 1-2, it’s available for FREE here – and here…and here or here (for Mac). What’s your excuse?

And if you go see the new movie The Man Who Invented Christmas, let me know what you think! WORLD Magazine gave it a recommendation!

Three Things to Think On This “Holiday Season”

51ycpilxgcl If you’re like me, you’re pretty familiar with the mythos of A Christmas Carol, but have never actually read the original. This year, I remedied that.

Charles Dickens’ original story of rich, cantankerous, “Bah-Humbug” Scrooge, the ghosts of Christmas, and the joy of celebration is available on Project Gutenberg and on Amazon as free ebooks (or as an audiobook!), so there’s no barrier to enjoying this classic tale.

As I read Dickens’ version of the story, three things jumped out at me.

Scrooge is still a sympathetic character.

Yes, he snarls at carolers, deals rigidly with his clerk, and Bah-Humbugs the charity collector, but his actions are so over-the-top he is not really villainous. His evil, uncharitable nature is more a caricature of real-life tyrants than otherwise. Further, in the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Past, we glimpse the back-story that led Ebenezer to this point, offering a counter-point to his self-insulated misery.

Everyone (bar grumpy Scrooge) is full of “holiday spirit.”

From the cheery Christmas fruits on the shelf, to the grocers working Christmas morning, to the customers bubbling with good humor toward each other, everyone shows Ebenezer the general aura of “good cheer” that supposedly characterizes the season.

How about us, in the modern world? Did you banter with the people waiting with you in line? Were you cheerful toward your waitress, when you were eating out to celebrate and she was working her feet off on a holiday? Did you show Christmasy compassion and kindness toward your check-out clerks, your annoying uncles, that out-of-control kid in the mall?

Sharing “good will” certainly includes bestowing donations on the “work-houses” of our day (a la Christmas Carol) but it involves so much more than that. I admit it’s difficult, in the midst of extra hours, presents, coordinating vacation plans, and all the rest of the bustle, to remember an upbeat attitude, but it seems to me sort of the whole point. The new-made Scrooge does {SPOILER} give generously with his money, but he also starts giving smiles, greetings, well-wishes, and time – he frivoles at his nephew’s party, leaves his office to enjoy the Christmas-day streets, and invests not just money but time and himself in a relationship with his clerk’s family.

Did anyone else have trouble remembering to be generous with ourselves this year?

Everyone goes to church.

There’s no indication Scrooge’s Christmas day was on a Sunday, but when the church bells ring, everyone sallies out to their ecclesiastical duties (cheerfully, of course).

In 2016, Christmas Day was also Sunday, which is highly fitting. On Christmas, we remember when God the Son came in human flesh as a defenseless baby; on Easter (and, technically, every “first day of the week”) we remember that His purpose in coming was to die on the cross, a sacrifice for our sins, and to rise again, defeating Death forever.

How many people struggled with whether or not to go to church that morning? How many churches cancelled services so people could “be with their families,” forgetting that worship of God was the whole point of Christ-mass?

Yet, in the London which Charles Dickens portrays, everyone gladly follows the bells to the church – Ebenezer Scrooge included.

Forget “Christmas Movies” – Do Your Christmas Reading!

If your only experience of this classic is an abridged children’s version, or one of the movie versions, or vague cultural references, it’s worth it to pick up this Christmas classic and consider the allegories, lessons, and themes it celebrates for yourself.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

God bless us, every one.

“Not By Sight” by Kate Breslin

Not-By-Sight Cover Wealthy young suffragette Grace Mabry is determined to do her part for Great Britain, not only to help her nation win World War I, but also to end the fighting so her twin brother can return from the front lines.

To this end, she slips into a prestigious costume ball and hands a white feather of cowardice to Jack Benningham – well-known conscientious objector and profligate nobleman.

Unknown to her (and his family), Jack is secretly a spy-catcher for the British government, using his reputation as a devil-may-care pleasure-seeker to root out traitors to his country.

This gripping premise unwound into a TOTALLY different book than I was expecting. But once I got over my initial shock, I reconciled myself to this story as worth reading. Continue reading